The Pittsburgh Steelers are on a seemingly endless quest to vanquish the New England Patriots, but they haven’t come close to seeing their white whale. Since Bill Belichick was named head coach of the Patriots, New England holds a 10-3 edge in the series, with one of those losses coming with Matt Cassel at the helm.
The Patriots have won the past four games with an average score of 36.5-21.3 and the New England offense has been especially dominant in these games.
Tom Brady completed 99 of 133 attempts (74.4%) for 1,326 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions for a passer rating of 138.2. Running backs combined for 453 yards on 101 attempts (4.49 YPC) and 148 receiving yards and 5 total touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski has 330 yards and 5 touchdowns. Deep threats Chris Hogan and Aaron Robson combined for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola combined for 444 and 2 touchdowns.
The Steelers have not found an answer to the New England offense and it led Pittsburgh to try and change their defense over this past offseason from a zone-heavy unit to one that can play more man coverage to try and stop the Patriots offense (it might have been bluster because the Steelers are still playing more zone than any other defense in the league).
It would also seem that the specter of the Patriots has Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looking ahead on the schedule and circling their week 15 showdown with a red marker.
Mike Tomlin talking about Steelers/Patriots in a few weeks... pic.twitter.com/oMRqqYYvg2— '03 Kliff Kingsbury (@fearthe_beard11) November 27, 2017
When asked by former Colts head coach Tony Dungy how he stops his players and himself from looking ahead on the schedule to playing the Patriots, Tomlin disagreed with that approach.
Not only is Tomlin already thinking about facing the Patriots in week 15, but he’s also thinking about playing New England in the playoffs.
“Man, I’m going to embrace the elephant in the room, it’s going to be fireworks,” Tomlin said. “It’s probably going to be part one, and that’s going to be a big game. But probably, if we’re both doing what we’re supposed to do, the second one is really going to be big. And what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, and determine the location in the second one.”
Yikes. That’s some serious disrespect to the rest of the AFC (albeit not unfounded) that should only serve to paint a bigger target on the Steelers’ backs. Now it’ll be mighty embarrassing if the Steelers get knocked out during the divisional round against a team that Tomlin was already looking past.
Can you imagine Bill Belichick saying anything other than, “we’re focused on playing the Buffalo Bills” when asked about the Steelers? When given another chance to explain his comments, Tomlin said he stands by the statement.
Pittsburgh players often find themselves having to explain why they can’t get over the Patriots hump, with safety Mike Mitchell crediting New England’s discipline and linebacker Ryan Shazier admitting the entire NFL has a problem facing the Patriots. Even Tomlin was heard cussing out the Patriots prior to last year’s AFC Championship game.
It’s obvious that the Patriots consume the Steelers planning in the same way they resided inside the head of Rex Ryan. They can’t escape the Patriots and they’re creating their own pressure for week 15.
It certainly doesn’t help that the Steelers barely held on to beat the Detroit Lions, or needed to score 17 straight points and a last-second field goal to come back and beat the Indianapolis Colts, or required a 53-yard last second field goal to beat the Green Bay Packers, all over Pittsburgh’s past four games. Underwhelming performances against underwhelming competition doesn’t help to dispel the notion that the Steelers are peeking ahead.
It also doesn’t matter that the Steelers have back-to-back divisional games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. All of these games have been mere appetizers for the main course against the Patriots.
But while Tomlin and the Steelers are embracing the idea of facing the Patriots in week 15 and again in the playoffs, New England is going to first get past the Bills, and then turn their focus back to the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are going to work on improving in the run game and on their red zone offense. Pittsburgh won’t come into focus for the coaches or players for another couple weeks.
Maybe the Steelers attention and energy to play the Patriots will pay off since Pittsburgh has their most well-rounded team in years. But if history is any guide, Tomlin is about to go down with the Pequod.